Christian view of marriage

Christian view of marriage


Most Christian authorities and bodies view marriage (also called Holy Matrimony) as a state instituted and ordained by God for the lifelong relationship between one man as husband and one woman as wife. They consider it the most intimate of human relationships, a gift from God, and a sacred institution.[1] Protestants consider it to be sacred, holy, and even central to the community of faith,[2] while Catholics[3] and Orthodox Christians[4] consider it a Sacrament. Biblically, it is to be "held in honour among all…." [Heb. 13:4]]

Jesus Christ underscored the importance and sacredness of lifelong marriage in his own teachings. He stated that God had created mankind as male and female, [Genesis 1:27]] and that in marriage "'the two will become one flesh'. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." [Matt. 19:5b-6]]

Civil laws recognize marriage as having social and political statuses. Christian theology affirms the secular status of marriage, but additionally views it from a moral and religious perspective that transcends all social interests.

While marriage is honored and affirmed among Christians and throughout the Bible, there is no suggestion that it is necessary for everyone. Single people who either have chosen to remain unmarried or who have lost their spouse for some reason are neither incomplete in Christ nor personal failures.[5]

The New Testament teaches that sex is reserved for marriage.[5] It calls sex outside of marriage the sin of adultery (for the married person) if either sexual participant is married to another person, while it calls voluntary sexual intercourse between two unmarried persons the sin of fornication.

Christians seek to uphold the seriousness of wedding vows. Yet, they respond with compassion to deep hurts by recognizing that divorce, though less than the ideal, is sometimes necessary to relieve one partner of intolerable hardship, unfaithfulness or desertion.[5] While the voice of God had said, "I hate divorce", [Malachi 2:16]] some authorities believe the divorce rate in the church is nearly comparable to that of the culture at large.[6]

There is considerable disagreement among Christians as to the biblical way to define the roles of each marriage partner, and how each should interact in the family to create healthy family relationships and to please God. Roles in Christian marriages between opposite-sex couples challenge deep-rooted beliefs, teachings, and traditions—most dating from biblical days. Opinions and teachings vary among three principal groups—one group that believes in a full and co-equal partnership of the husband and wife, and two others which advocate a male-dominant hierarchical structure in marriage:

  • Christian egalitarianism proposes a completely equal partnership between men and women in both the family and in the church. Its proponents teach "the fundamental biblical principle of the equality of all human beings before God". [Gal. 3:28]] According to this principle, there can be no moral or theological justification for permanently granting or denying status, privilege, or prerogative solely on the basis of a person's race, class, or gender.[7]
  • Complementarianism prescribes a husband-headship male-dominant hierarchy. This view's core beliefs call for a "husband’s loving, humble headship" and "the wife’s intelligent, willing submission" to his headship. Without necessarily using the term "obey", they believe women have "different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage..."[8]
  • Biblical patriarchy prescribes a strict male-dominant hierarchy. Their organization's first tenet is that "God reveals Himself as masculine, not feminine. God is the eternal Father and the eternal Son, the Holy Spirit is also addressed as 'He,' and Jesus Christ is a male." They consider the husband-father to be "sovereign" over "his" household—the family leader, provider, and protector. They call for a wife to be obedient to her "head" (husband).[9]

A small and growing number of denominations conduct weddings between same-sex couples where it is civilly legal. A few others perform ceremonies to bless same-sex unions without recognizing them as marriage.

Some Christian authorities used to permit polygamy (specifically polygyny) in the past, but this practice, besides being illegal in Western cultures, is now considered to be out of the Christian mainstream and continues to be practised only by fringe fundamentalist sects.

Family authority and responsibilities

Christians today hold three competing views as to what is the biblically-ordained relationship between husbands and wives. These views range from one that believes the New Testament teaches complete equality of authority and responsibility between the man and woman in marriage, all the way to one that calls for a return to complete patriarchy in which relationships are based on male-dominant power and authority in marriage.[9]

The great debate about marriage in contemporary Christian circles is among three primary groups—“Christian egalitarians”, “Complementarians”, and "Biblical patriarchists".

Much of the dispute hinges on how one interprets the New Testament Household Code (Haustafel) which has as its main focus hierarchical relationships between three pairs of social classes that were controlled by Roman law: husbands/wives, parents/children, and masters/slaves. The Code, with variations, occurs in four epistles (letters) by the Apostle Paul and in 1  Peter. The Roman law of Manus gave the husband nearly absolute autocratic power over his wife, including life and death. The law of Patria Potestas (Latin for "Rule of the Fathers") gave a husband equally severe power over his children and slaves. Theologian Frank Stagg[10]:pp.187ff finds the basic tenets of the Code in Aristotle's discussion of the household in Book 1 of Politics and in Philo's Hypothetica 7.14.[11] Serious study of the New Testament Household Code (Haustafel) began with Martin Dilbelius in 1913, with a wide range of studies since then. In a Tübingen dissertation by James E. Crouch,[12] he concludes that the early Christians found in Hellenistic Judaism a code which they adapted and Christianized.

Biblical egalitarians, Complementarians, and Biblical patriarchists each differ on how the provisions of the New Testament Household Code are to be interpreted today, both as to meaning and to intended audiences. Some authorities view them as applicable to 1st century new Christians living under an oppressive Roman legal system, while others believe they were intended to apply to all peoples of all times to come, including today.

Stagg believes the several occurrences of the Code in the New Testament were intended to meet the needs for order within the churches and in the society of the day. He maintains that the New Testament Household Codes are attempts by Paul and Peter to Christianize these harsh Codes for Roman citizens who had become followers of Christ. Stagg writes that there is some suggestion in scripture that because Paul had taught that they had newly found freedom "in Christ", wives, children, and slaves were taking improper advantage of the Haustafel both in the home and the church. "The form of the code stressing reciprocal social duties is traced to Judaism's own Oriental background, with its strong moral/ethical demand but also with a low view of woman.... At bottom is probably to be seen the perennial tension between freedom and order.... What mattered to (Paul) was 'a new creation' [Gal. 6:15]] and 'in Christ' there is 'not any Jew not Greek, not any slave nor free, not any male and female'". [Gal. 3:28]][5] Such codes existed in Greek tradition. "These appear in Christian writings after 70, in response to a secular world which had proved unexpectedly durable. The subordination of women in the Haustafeln conflicts with the greater equality of earlier Christian practice, and accompanies a trend toward civic subordination and hierarchical authority in the Church, which both accommodated itself to secular culture and patterned itself on secular authority."[13]

Two of these Christianized codes are found in Colossians 3:18-4:1 (which instructs wives to subordinate themselves to their husbands).

The importance of the meaning of "head" as used by the

Wayne Grudem criticizes commonly rendering kephalē in those same passages only to mean "source", and argue that it denotes "authoritative head" in such texts as

Another potential way to define the word "head", and hence the relationship between husband and wife as found in Bible, is through the example given in the surrounding context in which the word is found. [Eph. 5:20-33]] In that context the husband and wife are compared to Christ and his church. The context seems to imply an authority structure based on a man sacrificing himself for his wife, as Christ did for the church; a love-based authority structure, where submission is not required but freely given based on the care given to the wife.[18]

Some biblical references on this subject are debated depending on one’s school of theology. The historical grammatical method is a hermeneutic technique that strives to uncover the meaning of the text by taking into account not just the grammatical words, but also the syntactical aspects, the cultural and historical background, and the literary genre. Thus references to a patriarchal Biblical culture may or may not be relevant to other societies. What is believed to be a timeless truth to one person or denomination may be considered a cultural norm or minor opinion to another.

Egalitarian view

Christian Egalitarians (from the French word "égal" meaning "equal") believe that Christian marriage is intended to be a marriage without any hierarchy—a full and equal partnership between the wife and husband. They emphasize that nowhere in the New Testament is there a requirement for a wife to obey her husband. While "obey" was introduced into marriage vows for much of the church during the Middle Ages, its only New Testament support is found in

Christian Egalitarians interpret scripture to mean that God intended spouses to practice mutual submission, each in equality with the other. The phrase "mutual submission" comes from a verse in

The Christian Egalitarian viewgender equality in marriage. They believe the biblical model for Christian marriages is therefore for the spouses to share equal responsibility within the family—not one over the other nor one under the other.

David Dykes, theologian, author, and pastor of a 15,000-member Baptist church, sermonized that "When you are in Christ, you have full equality with all other believers". In a sermon he entitled "The Ground Is Level at the Foot of the Cross", he said that some theologians have called one particular Bible verse the Christian


Those of the egalitarian persuasion point to the biblical instruction that all Christian believers, irrespective of gender, are to submit or be subject "to one another in the fear of God" [Eph. 5:21 KJV]] or "out of reverence for Christ". [NIV]] Gilbert Bilezikian writes that in the highly debated Ephesians 5 passage, the verb "to be subject" or "to be submitted" appears in verse 21 which he describes as serving as a "hinge" between two different sections. The first section consists of verses 18-20, verse 21 is the connection between the two, and the second section consists of verses 22-33.[24]:p.153 When discussion begins at verse 22 in Ephesians 5, Paul appears to be reaffirming a chain of command principle within the family. However,

...when interpretation begins with verse 21, the entire passage describes mutual submission within the family. The wife submits to her husband in everything "as unto the Lord." If her husband makes a request unworthy of her Lord, her primary loyalty is "unto the Lord." ...Instruction about submission is four times longer for husbands than for wives. The greatest burden of submission is clearly placed on the husband.[25]

Advocates of Christian egalitarianism believe that this model has firm biblical support:

  • The word translated "help" or "helper" in
  • The "two becoming one" concept, first cited in Gen. 2:24, was quoted by Jesus in his teachings on marriage and recorded almost identically in the gospels of both Matthew and Mark. [Matt. 19:4–6]] [Mk. 10:7–9]] In those passages Jesus reemphasized the concept by adding a divine postscript to the Genesis passage: "So, they are no longer two, but one" (NIV).
  • The Apostle Paul also quoted the Genesis 2:24 passage in Describing it as a "profound mystery", he analogizes it to "Christ and the church". [Eph. 5:32]] Then Paul states that every husband must love his wife as he loves himself. [5:33]]
  • Jesus actually forbids any hierarchy of relationships in Christian relationships. All three synoptic gospels record virtually the same teaching of Jesus, adding to its apparent significance:[27] [Matt. 20:25–26a]] [Mark 10:42-45]] [Luke 22:25-27]]
  • The Apostle Paul calls on husbands and wives to be subject to each other out of reverence for Christ—mutual submission. [Eph. 5:21]]
  • As persons, husband and wife are of equal value. There is no priority of one spouse over the other. In truth, they are one.Galatians 3:28, applies to all Christian relationships, including Christian marriage: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
  • The Apostle Peter calls husbands and wives "joint heirs of the grace of life" and cautions a husband who isn't considerate to his wife and does not treat her with respect that his prayers will be hindered. [1 Peter 3:7]]
  • When Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila,[29] of the seven times Priscilla and Aquila are mentioned in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul always lists them together, suggesting that he viewed them as a ministry team and also as a family unit. Of those seven biblical references to this couple, Paul lists Priscilla first in five of those, suggesting that he may have viewed her as the more prominent of the two, but it is clear that he did not follow the tradition of always listing the male's name first for a married couple. Some scholars have concluded that Priscilla was the head of the family unit.[30]
  • Among spouses it is possible to submit without love, but it is impossible to love without submitting mutually to each other. [Col. 3:8-9]]

The egalitarian paradigm leaves it up to the couple to decide who is responsible for what task or function in the home. Such decisions should be made rationally and wisely, [Eph 5:15]] not based on gender or tradition. Examples of a couple's decision logic might include:

  • which spouse is more competent for a particular task or function;
  • which has better access to it;
  • or if they decide both are similarly competent and have comparable access, they might make the decision based on who prefers that function or task, or conversely, which of them dislikes it less than the other. The egalitarian view holds that decisions about managing family responsibilities are made rationally through cooperation and negotiation, not on the basis of tradition (e.g., "man's work" or "woman's" work), nor any other irrelevant or irrational basis.[31][32]

Complementarian view

Complementarians hold to a hierarchical structure between husband and wife. They believe men and women have different gender-specific roles that allow each to complement the other, hence the designation “Complementarians”. The Complementarian view of marriage is that while the husband and wife are of equal worth before God, husbands and wives are given different functions and responsibilities by God that are based on gender, and that male leadership is biblically ordained so that the husband is always the senior authority figure. They state they "observe with deep concern" "accompanying distortions or neglect of the glad harmony portrayed in Scripture between the loving, humble leadership of redeemed husbands and the intelligent, willing support of that leadership by redeemed wives".

Scriptures such as 1 Corinthians 11:3: "But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God," (KJV) are understood as meaning the wife is to be subject to her husband, if not unconditionally.[36]

According to Complementarian authors John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and others, historically, but to a significantly lesser extent in most of Christianity today, the predominant position in both Catholicism and conservative Protestantism places the male as the "head" in the home and in the church.[37][38][39][40] They hold that women are commanded to be in subjection to male leadership, with wives obedient to their head, based upon Old Testament precepts and principles.[41] This view holds that, "God has created men and women equal in their essential dignity and human personhood, but different and complementary in function with male headship in the home and in the Church."[42]

Grudem also acknowledges exceptions to the submission of wives to husbands where moral issues are involved.[43] Rather than unconditional obedience, Complementarian authors such as Piper and Grudem are careful to caution that a wife's submission should never cause her to "follow her husband into sin."[44]

Roman Catholic Church teaching on the role of women includes that of Pope Leo XIII in his 1880 encyclical Arcanum, which states:

The husband is the chief of the family and the head of the wife. The woman, because she is flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone, must be subject to her husband and obey him; not, indeed, as a servant, but as a companion, so that her obedience shall be wanting in neither honor nor dignity. Since the husband represents Christ, and since the wife represents the Church, let there always be, both in him who commands and in her who obeys, a heaven-born love guiding both in their respective duties."

Though each of their churches is autonomous and self-governed, the official position of the Southern Baptist Convention (the largest Protestant denomination) is:

The husband and wife are of equal worth before God, since both are created in God's image. A husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. He has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation."[47]

Biblical patriarchy

Biblical patriarchy is similar to Complementarianism but with differences of degree and emphasis. They carry the husband-headship model considerably further and with more militancy. While Complementarians also hold to exclusively male leadership in both the home and the church, Biblical patriarchy extends that exclusion to the civic sphere as well, so that women should not be civil leaders[48] and indeed should not have careers outside the home.[49]

Biblical patriarchists see what they describe as a crisis of this era being what they term to be a systematic attack on the "timeless truths of biblical patriarchy." They believe such an attack includes the movement to "subvert the biblical model of the family, and redefine the very meaning of fatherhood and motherhood, masculinity, femininity, and the parent and child relationship."[9] Arguing from the biblical presentation of God revealing himself "as masculine, not feminine", they believe God ordained distinct gender roles for man and woman as part of the created order. They say "Adam’s headship over Eve was established at the beginning, before sin entered the world". Their view is that the male has God-given authority and mandate to direct "his" household in paths of obedience to God. They refer to man's "dominion" beginning within the home, and a man’s qualification to lead and ability to lead well in the public square is based upon his prior success in ruling his household.[9]

Thus, William Einwechter refers to the traditional Complementarian view as "two-point Complementarianism" (male leadership in the family and church), and regards the biblical patriarchy view as "three-point" or "full" complementarianism (male leadership in family, church and society).[50]

The patriarchists teach that "the woman was created as a helper to her husband, as the bearer of children, and as a "keeper at home,"aa concluding that the God-ordained and proper sphere of dominion for a wife is the household. Biblical patriarchists consider that "faithfulness to Christ requires that (Biblical patriarchy) be believed, taught, and lived." They claim that the "man is...the image and glory of God in terms of authority, while the woman is the glory of man." They teach that a wife is to be obedient to her "head" (husband), based upon Old Testament teachings and models.

Other views

See Christian feminism

Biblical foundations and history

Christians believe that marriage is considered in its ideal according to the purpose of God. At the heart of God's design for marriage is companionship and intimacy.

The biblical picture of marriage expands into something much broader, with the husband and wife relationship illustrating the relationship between Christ and the church.

It is also considered in its actual occurrence, sometimes involving failure. Therefore, the Bible speaks on the subject of divorce.[5] The New Testament recognizes a place for singleness. Salvation within Christianity is not dependent on the continuation of a biological lineage.[51]

Old Testament

Christians regard the foundational principle of the lifelong union of a man and a woman to have been first articulated biblically in Gomer, whom he married at God's command. [Hosea 1:2-3]]

Polygyny, or men having multiple wives at once, is one of the most common marital arrangements represented in the Old Testament,[52] yet scholars doubt that it was common among average Israelites because of the wealth needed to practice it.[53]

Betrothal (erusin), which is merely a binding promise to get married, is distinct from marriage itself (nissu'in), with the time between these events varying substantially.[52][54] Since a wife was regarded as property in biblical times, the betrothal (erusin) was effected simply by purchasing her from her father (or guardian);[52][54] the girl’s consent is not explicitly required by any biblical law.[54]

Like the adjacent Arabic culture (in the pre-Islamic period),[55] the act of marriage appears mainly to have consisted of the groom fetching the bride, although among the Israelites (unlike the Arabs) the procession was a festive occasion, accompanied by music, dancing, and lights.[52][54] To celebrate the marriage, week-long feasts were sometimes held.[52][54]

In Old Testament times, a wife was regarded as chattel, belonging to her husband.[52][54] The descriptions of the Bible suggest that she would be expected to perform tasks such as spinning, sewing, weaving, manufacture of clothing, fetching of water, baking of bread, and animal husbandry.[56] However, wives were usually looked after with care, and bigamous men were expected to ensure that they give their first wife food, clothing, and sexual activity. [Ex 21:10]]

Since a wife was regarded as property, her husband was originally free to divorce her for any reason, at any time.[54] A divorced couple could get back together unless the wife had married someone else after her divorce. [Deut 24:2–4]]

Jesus on marriage, divorce, and remarriage

The Bible clearly addresses marriage and divorce. Those in troubled marriages are encouraged to seek counseling and restoration because most divorces are neither necessary nor unavoidable.[6]

"Have you not read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and said, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh"? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate."

— Mark 10:7–9 Ital. added

In both Matthew and Mark, Jesus appealed to God's will in creation. He builds upon the narrative in

Some hold that marriage vows are unbreakable, so that even in the distressing circumstances in which a couple separates, they are still married from God’s point of view. This is so in the Roman Catholic church, although occasionally it will declare a marriage to be null (in other words, it never really was a marriage).[60] William Barclay (1907-1978) has written:

There is no time in history when the marriage bond stood in greater peril of destruction than in the days when Christianity first came into this world. At that time the world was in danger of witnessing the almost total break-up of marriage and the collapse of the home…. Theoretically no nation ever had a higher ideal of marriage than the Jews had. The voice of God had said, "I hate divorce" (in Malachi 2:16)

— William Barclay[61]

Jesus brought together two passages from Genesis, reinforcing the basic position on marriage found in Jewish scripture. Thus, he implicitly emphasized that it is God-made ("God has joined together"), "male and female," lifelong ("let no one separate"), and monogamous ("a man…his wife").[62]

1 Corinthians 7:10–11. The exception clause—"except for…"—uses the Greek word porneia which is variously translated "fornication" (KJV), "marital unfaithfulness" (NIV 1984), "sexual immorality" (NIV 2011), "unchastity" (RSV), et al. The KJV New Testament Greek Lexicon, KJV says porneia includes a variety of sexual "deviations" to include "illicit sexual intercourse, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals, etc., sexual intercourse with close relatives…." [Lev. 18]]


There is no evidence that Jesus himself ever married, and considerable evidence that he remained single. In contrast to Judaism and many other traditions,[51]:p.283 he taught that there is a place for voluntary singleness in Christian service. He believed marriage could be a distraction from an urgent mission,[64] that he was living in a time of crisis and urgency where the Kingdom of God would be established where there would be no marriage nor giving in marriage:

"I tell you the truth," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life."

— Luke 18:29–30

New Testament beyond the Gospels

The Apostle Paul quoted passages from Genesis almost verbatim in two of his New Testament books. He used marriage not only to describe the kingdom of God, as Jesus had done, but to define also the nature of the 1st-century Christian church. His theological view was a Christian development of the Old Testament parallel between marriage and the relationship between God and Israel. He analogized the church as a bride and Christ as the bridegroom─drawing parallels between Christian marriage and the relationship between Christ and the Church.

There is no hint in the New Testament that Jesus was ever married, and no clear evidence that Paul was ever married. However, both Jesus and Paul seem to view marriage as the preferred norm according to the purpose of God for Christians. They provide "exceptions" to being married because of extraordinary circumstances ("because of the impending crisis"), see also Pauline privilege. Their concerns were that marriage might be a distraction from the work of discipleship.[65]

Some scholars have speculated that Paul may have been a widower since prior to his conversion to Christianity he was a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, positions in which the social norm of the day required the men to be married. But it is just as likely that he never married at all.[66]

Yet, Paul acknowledges the mutuality of marital relations, and recognizes that his own singleness is "a particular gift from God" that others may not necessarily have. "Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." [1 Cor 7:8]]

Paul indicates that bishops, deacons, and elders must be "husbands of one wife", and that women must have one husband. This is usually understood to legislate against polygamy rather than to require marriage:

Now the overseer (bishop) is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.

— 1 Timothy 3:2

A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well.

— 1 Timothy 3:12

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint (or ordain) elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.

— Titus 1:5-6

In the Roman Age, female widows who did not remarry were considered more pure than those who did.[67] Such widows were known as one man woman (enos andros gune) in the epistles of Paul. [1 Tim. 5:9]] Paul writes:

No widow may be put on the list of widows unless she is over sixty, has been faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord’s people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds".

— 1 Tim. 5:9-10

Paul allowed widows to remarry. [1 Cor. 7:39-40]] [1 Tim. 5:11-16]] Paul says that only one-man women older than 60 years [1 Tim. 5:9-10]] can make the list of Christian widows who did special tasks in the community, but that younger widows should remarry to hinder sin. By demanding that leaders of the Church be a one woman man, Paul excluded remarried widowers from having influence. This was a more strict understanding of monogamy than what the Roman laws codified, and it was new and unusual that the demand was made on men.

Marriage and early Church Fathers

Building on what they saw the example of Jesus and Paul advocating, some early Church Fathers placed less value on the family and saw celibacy and freedom from family ties as a preferable state.

Nicene Fathers such as Augustine believed that marriage was a sacrament because it was a symbol used by Paul to express Christ's love of the Church. However, there was also an apocalyptic dimension in his teaching, and he was clear that if everybody stopped marrying and having children that would be an admirable thing; it would mean that the Kingdom of God would return all the sooner and the world would come to an end.[68] Such a view reflects the Manichaean past of Augustine.

While upholding the New Testament teaching that marriage is "honourable in all and the bed undefiled,"[69] Augustine believed that "yet, whenever it comes to the actual process of generation, the very embrace which is lawful and honourable cannot be effected without the ardour of lust...This is the carnal concupiscence, which, while it is no longer accounted sin in the regenerate, yet in no case happens to nature except from sin."[70]

Both Tertullian and Gregory of Nyssa were church fathers who were married. They each stressed that the happiness of marriage was ultimately rooted in misery. They saw marriage as a state of bondage that could only be cured by celibacy. They wrote that at the very least, the virgin woman could expect release from the "governance of a husband and the chains of children."[71]:p.151

Tertullian argued that second marriage, having been freed from the first by death,"will have to be termed no other than a species of fornication," partly based on the reasoning that this involves desiring to marry a woman out of sexual ardor, which a Christian convert is to avoid.[72]

Also advocating celibacy and virginity as preferable alternatives to marriage, Jerome wrote: "It is not disparaging wedlock to prefer virginity. No one can make a comparison between two things if one is good and the other evil."[73] On First Corinthians 7:1 he reasons, "It is good, he says, for a man not to touch a woman. If it is good not to touch a woman, it is bad to touch one: for there is no opposite to goodness but badness. But if it be bad and the evil is pardoned, the reason for the concession is to prevent worse evil."[74]

St. John Chrysostom wrote: "...virginity is better than marriage, however good.... Celibacy imitation of the angels. Therefore, virginity is as much more honorable than marriage, as the angel is higher than man. But why do I say angel? Christ, Himself, is the glory of virginity."[75]

Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage, said that the first commandment given to men was to increase and multiply, but now that the earth was full there was no need to continue this process of multiplication.[76]

This view of marriage was reflected in the lack of any formal liturgy formulated for marriage in the early Church. No special ceremonial was devised to celebrate Christian marriage—despite the fact that the Church had produced liturgies to celebrate the Eucharist, Baptism and Confirmation. It was not important for a couple to have their nuptials blessed by a priest. People could marry by mutual agreement in the presence of witnesses.[68]

At first, the old Roman pagan rite was used by Christians, although modified superficially. The first detailed account of a Christian wedding in the West dates from the 9th century. This system, known as Spousals, persisted after the Reformation.[68]

Denominational beliefs and practice

Catholic Church

Main article: Catholic marriage

The Catholic Church teaches that God himself is the author of the sacred institution of marriage, which is His way of showing love for those He created. Marriage is a divine institution that can never be broken, even if the husband or wife legally divorce in the civil courts; as long as they are both alive, the Church considers them bound together by God. Holy Matrimony is another name for sacramental marriage.

Marriage is intended to be a faithful, exclusive, lifelong union of a man and a woman. Committing themselves completely to each other, a Catholic husband and wife strive to sanctify each other, bring children into the world, and educate them in the Catholic way of life. Man and woman, although created differently from each other, complement each other. This complementarity draws them together in a mutually loving union.[77]

The valid marriage of baptized Christians is one of the seven Catholic sacraments. The sacrament of marriage is the only sacrament that a priest does not administer directly; a priest, however, is the chief witnesses of the husband and wife's administration of the sacrament to each other at the wedding ceremony in a Catholic church.

The Catholic Church views that Christ himself established the sacrament of marriage at the wedding feast of Cana; therefore, since it is a divine institution, neither the Church nor state can alter the basic meaning and structure of marriage. Husband and wife give themselves totally to each other in a union that lasts until death.[78]

Priests are instructed that marriage is part of God's natural law and to support the couple if they do choose to marry. Today it is common for Catholics to enter into a "mixed marriage" between a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic. Couples entering into a mixed marriage are usually allowed to marry in a Catholic church provided their decision is of their own accord and they intend to remain together for life, to be faithful to each other, and to have children which are brought up in the Catholic faith.[79]

In Catholicism, marriage has two ends: the good of the spouses themselves, and the procreation and education of children (1983 code of canon law, c.1055; 1994 catechism, par.2363). Hence "entering marriage with the intention of never having children is a grave wrong and more than likely grounds for an annulment."[80] It is normal procedure for a priest to ask the prospective bride and groom about their plans to have children before officiating at their wedding. The Catholic Church may refuse to marry anyone unwilling to have children, since procreation by "the marriage act" is a fundamental part of marriage.[81] Thus usage of any form of contraception, in vitro fertilization, or birth control besides Natural Family Planning is a grave offense against the sanctity of marriage and ultimately against God.[81]



Essentially all Protestant denominations hold marriage to be ordained by God for the union between a man and a woman. They see the primary purposes of this union as intimate companionship, rearing children and mutual support for both husband and wife to fulfill their life callings.[82] Protestants generally approve of birth control and consider marital sexual pleasure to be a gift of God. While condoning divorce only under limited circumstances, most Protestant churches allow for divorce and remarriage.[83]

Conservative Protestants take a stricter view of the nature of marriage. They consider marriage a solemn covenant between wife, husband and God. Most view sexual relations as appropriate only within a marriage. Divorce is permissible, if at all, only in very specific circumstances (for example, sexual immorality or abandonment by the non-believer).[84][85]

Roles and responsibilities

Roles and responsibilities of husband and wives now vary considerably on a continuum between the long-held male dominant/female submission view and a shift toward equality (without sameness)[86] of the woman and the man.[87] There is considerable debate among many Christians today—not just Protestants—whether equality of husband and wife or male headship is the biblically ordained view, and even if it is biblically permissible. The divergent opinions fall into two main groups: Complementarians (who call for husband-headship and wife-submission) and Christian Egalitarians (who believe in full partnership equality in which couples can discover and negotiate roles and responsibilities in marriage).[88]

There is no debate that
Ephesians 5 (NIV)

1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love....
18 be filled with the Spirit....
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, [submit yourselves] to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Eastern Orthodox Church

In Eastern Orthodoxy, marriage is treated as a Sacred Mystery (sacrament), and as an ordination. It serves to unite a woman and a man in eternal union before God.[4][89][90] It refers to the 1st centuries of the church, where spiritual union of spouses in the first sacramental marriage was eternal.[90][91] Therefore, it is considered a martyrdom as each spouse learns to die to self for the sake of the other. Like all Mysteries, Orthodox marriage is more than just a celebration of something which already exists: it is the creation of something new, the imparting to the couple of the grace which transforms them from a 'couple' into husband and wife within the Body of Christ.[92]

Marriage is an icon (image) of the relationship between Jesus and the Church. This is somewhat akin to the Old Testament prophets' use of marriage as an analogy to describe the relationship between God and Israel. Marriage is the simplest, most basic unity of the church: a congregation where "two or three are gathered together in Jesus' name." [Mt 18:20]][92] The home is considered a consecrated space (the ritual for the Blessing of a House is based upon that of the Consecration of a Church), and the husband and wife are considered the ministers of that congregation. However, they do not "perform" the Sacraments in the house church; they "live" the Sacrament of Marriage. Because marriage is considered to be a pilgrimage wherein the couple walk side by side toward the Kingdom of Heaven, marriage to a non-Orthodox partner is discouraged, though it may be permitted.

Unlike Western Christianity, Eastern Christians do not consider the sacramental aspect of the marriage to be conferred by the couple themselves. Rather, the marriage is conferred by the action of the Holy Spirit acting through the priest. Furthermore, no one besides a bishop or priest—not even a deacon—may perform the Sacred Mystery.

The external sign of the marriage is the placing of wedding crowns upon the heads of the couple, and their sharing in a "Common Cup" of wine. Once crowned, the couple walk a circle three times in a ceremonial "dance" in the middle of the church, while the choir intones a joyous three-part antiphonal hymn, "Dance, Isaiah"

The sharing of the Common Cup symbolizes the transformation of their union from a common marriage into a sacred union. The wedding is usually performed after the Divine Liturgy at which the couple receives Holy Communion. Traditionally, the wedding couple would wear their wedding crowns for eight days, and there is a special prayer said by the priest at the removal of the crowns.

Divorce is discouraged. Sometimes out of economia (mercy) a marriage may be dissolved if there is no hope whatever for a marriage to fulfill even a semblance of its intended sacramental character.[92] The standard formula for remarriage is that the Orthodox Church joyfully blesses the first marriage, merely performs the second, barely tolerates the third, and invariably forbids the fourth.[93]

Early church texts forbid marriage between an Orthodox Christian and a heretic or schismatic (which would include all non-Orthodox Christians). Traditional Orthodox Christians forbid mixed marriages with other denominations. More liberal ones perform them, provided that the couple formally commit themselves to rearing their children in the Orthodox faith.

All people are called to celibacy—human beings are all born into virginity, and Orthodox Christians are expected by Sacred Tradition to remain in that state unless they are called into marriage and that call is sanctified.[92] The church blesses two paths on the journey to salvation: monasticism and marriage. Mere celibacy, without the sanctification of monasticism, can fall into selfishness and tends to be regarded with disfavour by the Church.[92]

Orthodox priests who serve in parishes are usually married. They must marry prior to their ordination. If they marry after they are ordained they are not permitted to continue performing sacraments. If their wife dies, they are forbidden to remarry; if they do, they may no longer serve as a priest. A married man may be ordained as a priest or deacon. However, a priest or deacon is not permitted to enter into matrimony after ordination. Bishops must always be monks and are thus celibate. However, if a married priest is widowed, he may receive monastic tonsure and thus become eligible for the episcopate.

The Eastern Orthodox Church believes that marriage is an eternal union of spouses, but in Heaven there will not be a procreative bond of marriage.

Oriental Orthodox Church

The Oriental Orthodox Churches hold views almost identical to those of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria allows second marriages only in cases of adultery.[94]

Non-Trinitarian denominations

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In LDS teaching Celestial marriage is a sacred covenant between a man, a woman and God performed by a priesthood authority in the temples of the Church. Eternal marriage is legally recognized, but unlike other civil marriages, Eternal marriage is intended to continue into the afterlife after the resurrection if the man and woman do not break their covenants. Eternally married couples are often referred to as being "sealed" to each other. Sealed couples who keep their covenants are also promised to have their posterity sealed to them in the after life. Thus, the slogan of the LDS Church: "families are forever." The LDS Church encourages its members to be in good standing with it so that they may marry in the temple. "Cancellation of a sealing", sometimes incorrectly called a "temple divorce," is uncommon and is granted only by the highest authority in the Church. Civil divorce and marriage outside the temple is somewhat of a stigma in the Latter-day Saint culture although currently the Church itself directs its local leaders not to advise members about divorce one way or another.[95]

New Church (or Swedenborgian Church)

The New Church teaches that marriage love (sometimes translated "conjugial love") is "the precious jewel of human life and the repository of the Christian religion" because the love shared between a husband and a wife is the source of all peace and joy.[96] Emanuel Swedenborg coined the term "conjugial" (not to be confused with the more general term for marriage, "conjugal."[97][98]) to describe the special love experienced by married partners.[99][100] When a husband and wife work together to build their marriage on earth, that marriage continues after the death of their bodies and they live as angels in heaven into eternity. Swedenborg claimed to have spoken to angel couples who had been married for thousands of years.[101] Those who never married in the natural world will, if they wish, find a spouse in heaven.

Jehovah's Witnesses

The Jehovah's Witnesses view marriage to be a permanent arrangement with the only possible exception being adultery. Divorce is strongly discouraged even when adultery is committed since the wronged spouse is free to forgive the unfaithful one. There are provisions for a domestic separation in the event of "failure to provide for one's household" and domestic violence, or spiritual resistance on the part of a partner. Even in such situations though divorce would be considered grounds for loss of privileges in the congregation. Re-marrying after death or a proper divorce is permitted. Marriage is the only situation where any type of sexual interaction is acceptable, and even then certain restrictions apply to acts such as oral and anal sex. Married persons who are known to commit such acts may in fact lose privileges in the congregation as they are supposed to be setting a good example to the congregation.[102]

Same-sex marriage

A small number of mainline Protestant denominations such as the Episcopalians, the Metropolitan Community Church, the United Church of Christ, the United Church of Canada and some non-trinitarian denominations perform weddings between same-sex couples. Other churches perform ceremonies blessing same sex unions, but do not refer to them as marriages. The Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Christian Church, and the vast majority of Protestant denominations do not perform or recognise same-sex marriage. Whether or not to bless same-sex marriages and unions is a matter of debate within a few Protestant denominations.

See also


External links

  • Analysis of historic, current and Biblical Christian views on Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage
  • Annulments, Information on Roman Catholic
  • Catholic divorce
  • Christian Marriage Counseling
  • Divorce
  • Marriage as an Equal Partnership